An elderly academic on his way home from the cinema is accosted by a homeless woman. She tells him her name is Laura. So begins a nightmarish journey for Gerald, a historian forced to confront the mystery of his own past, and to ask himself if he has lived a good life—or even a decent one.
In the course of this very funny, sometimes disturbing and often moving novel, suppressed memories return to haunt him. There is the matter of the bag of farthings, stolen when he was just a small boy. And the question of the role he played in a family tragedy. Above all he has to assess the harm he may have done in a long-forgotten love affair.
Even those close to him suddenly appear unfathomable. How well does he really know his friend Terence, an apparently unworldly physics professor who inspired Gerald’s course on quantum history, or the vivacious, recently widowed Judith, his sister-in-law? And what about Abby, to whom he has been married the whole of his adult life? He seems to understand her as little as he understands himself.
The problem with exploring the past, Gerald begins to see, is that there are an infinite number of ways to travel through it.
Praise for Richard Francis
“What makes Francis’s books so satisfying is his bracing mixture of cool observation of foibles with real tenderness for his characters.”—Maggie Gee, The Sunday Times
“A comic novel with a heart and soul, the kind of book one always wants to read but can never find.”—Nick Hornby, Observer Book of the Year
“A big, good-hearted piece of literary entertainment.”—James Walton, Daily Telegraph
“Zadie Smith and Richard Francis have a lot in common. Both write loose, character-driven comedies, whose plots float along freely like brightly coloured balloons, tethered to telling, poetic detail.”—The Guardian
“Writing at times like a cross between Raymond Carver and Shena Mackay, Richard Francis unearths the potent beneath the banal.”—The Financial Times
“Francis has a devastating talent for exposing individuals’ essential mysteriousness.”—The Times
Richard Francis was educated at Cambridge and Harvard. He has written 17 books, both fiction and nonfiction, including a number of books on American history and thought. His award-winning novels and books of nonfiction have been published by leading houses in London and New York, including Fourth Estate, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, W.W. Norton, Faber & Faber, and Pantheon. He and his wife live in Bath.